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I’ve been out of college for a few years now, but I’ve kept many of the books I read during my academic years sitting on a shelf. And one day I realized that, because it’s been a few years, these books would probably read entirely different — the lenses I read through before would most certainly have changed over the years. So, I decided to pick the top five works to re-read in order to maintain my sanity during this self-isolation period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. So, if you’re looking for some new reads, here are my top five academic recommendations:
Of all the books I read in college, The Book Thief emotionally impacted me in a way no other novel has to date. The story follows a young Jewish girl growing up during Hitler’s Holocaust, but the real kicker is that the story is told from Death’s perspective. The plot itself is rife with action and emotion, but Zusak’s writing is what really makes this work special. I remember being blown away with the synesthesia sprinkled throughout, but Zusak is a master of toying with literary devices.This novel is an easy read, but don’t underestimate the power it contains.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I remember being immediately drawn to Goethe’s work during a course called “Magic and Literature,” and that fascination still continues. In this tale, Doctor Faust falls prey to a demon, Mephistopheles, who convinces him to sell his soul in exchange for a woman. This work is based on previous versions of the Faust tale, but I found it to be the most entertaining rendition. Of course, the Faust legend still impacts our current media via print, film, television and even anime and manga.
(Note: There are a lot of different translations. My professor had us picking through three different ones! But, unless you’re a German language guru, you’ll be just fine sticking to whichever translation you’re most comfortable with!)
No literature student can evade the power and persuasion of Shakespeare’s works, but to walk into a seminar about just four Shakespeare works was incredibly daunting. But it didn’t take long for me to crack into each one and realize the thrill of connecting Shakespeare’s writing like I did — we’ve got some big names to deal with here! Shakespeare fans are really doing themselves a disservice if they haven’t committed to this literary foursome.
Another one that will make you feel things, I, Tituba is an autobiographical-style novel following the life of Tituba, a forgotten witch of Salem. Tituba was a black slave from Barbados who was arrested during the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s, but not much is known about her after her release from jail. As a Caribbean writer, Condé explores the life of Tituba and challenges the Eurocrentric, white domination of history and stories told. If you’re looking for something profound and awakening, I highly recommend this novel.
Any guesses which university I attended? No UC Santa Cruz experience is complete until you’ve walked through The Grateful Dead exhibit at the library, so why should an academic degree be complete without a course on the band? I’d honestly never listened to The Grateful Dead before this course and haven’t listened much since. But I was fascinated with the history of a band that had such a cultural impact on our society that we’re keeping guitar picks under lock and key. No matter your previous knowledge of The Grateful Dead, this book will give you a lot of information and history to keep you entertained from cover to cover.
Happy reading, nerds!